According to a March Gallup poll, 50 percent of respondents thought the quality of the environment in the U.S., as a whole, is getting worse. But the reality is very different. Heritage hosted an Earth Day panel event in April addressing some of the overlooked truths about the state of the nation’s environment:
1. Human freedom and prosperity lead to environmental success.
Studies show that wealthy countries are environmentally healthier countries. Able to worry less about meeting basic needs, wealthier societies can afford to direct their attention to environmental improvement.
2. We’re not running out of resources.
Kenny LeBaron, left, and his brother Joshua moved to North Dakota from Minnesota to take advantage of higher salaries due to an oil boom there. Here they service a gas and oil well near Watford City, North Dakota, on September 27, 2011. (Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)
Some would have us believe that as population increases and economies grow, we are consuming resources too quickly. But this simply isn’t the case. In fact, many natural resources are renewable and respond positively to stewardship and management. As we learn more, innovate, and advance technology we develop more efficient ways to access, use, and reuse natural resources. The recent boom in shale oil and natural gas is a perfect example of this process.
3. The quality of our air is cleaner and safer.
Photo: Getty Images
Over the past 30 years (data gathered from 1980 through 2012) concentrations of each of the six common air pollutants have drastically decreased:
- Ozone: decreased by 25 percent
- Particulate Matter: 33 percent (data starting in 2000)
- Nitrogen Dioxide: 60 percent
- Sulfur Dioxide: 78 percent
- Carbon Monoxide: 83 percent
- Lead: 91 percent
This reduction in pollutants has happened at the same time the country has grown in wealth, population, and economic activity.
4. Although tough to measure, water quality is also improving.
Photo: Getty Images
Americans are using water more efficiently even as population has increased, and only 9 percent of the waters of the United States are considered impaired.
5. The government owns more land than it can manage.
Photo: Peggy Peattie/U-T San Diego/ZUMAPRESS.com
While the nation’s air and waters have improved in quality, the nation’s land management continues to stagnate— at best. The federal government owns some 28 percent of the United States and indirectly controls well beyond that amount through laws like the Endangered Species Act. The federal government alone owns:
- 42 percent of Arizona
- 47 percent of New Mexico
- 62 percent of Idaho and Alaska
- 81 percent of Nevada.
The government doesn’t have the resources to maintain such vast amounts of land and waters, but also because it has no incentive to steward it well. And in many cases the federal government has thwarted efforts of private citizens to improve the land.